The other day I decided that I really wanted some smoked salmon. This craving would be really quick and easy to satisfy if the smoked salmon available in grocery stores wasn't completely dreadful. Luckily, smoking salmon isn't all that tough, though it does take a little time.
The weather wasn't exactly cooperating with me, but I was not to be deterred.
|Yes, that says -10.3 F. Looks like a good day to smoke some fish outside!|
Days like this are why all the instruction manuals on grills and smokers remind you not to use them indoors.
The best smoked salmon that I have ever eaten came from a tiny hole in the wall on the Oregon coast called Karla's Smokehouse. Unfortunately for humankind, she finally retired, after threatening to do so for a decade or more. Karla was unwilling to sell her business, fearing that her name could end up attached to an inferior product, but she did write a book. (If you are interested, you can preview and purchase it here.)
|So much fish wisdom...|
First, we need to assemble the cure. You probably have all the ingredients sitting in your cupboard. Karla's recipe is in the scale of pounds, and I simply do not need that much fish cure on hand at a time, so I weigh things out in the same number of ounces (4 ounces instead of 4 pounds, for example). She also uses some Prague powder in her cure. I am not smoking my fish for commercial purposes, so I substitute an equal amount of salt. Weigh out:
5.75 oz salt (I prefer to use pickling salt, but I have used kosher salt, too.)
1 oz white sugar
1 oz brown sugar
Stir the ingredients together, and store it in an airtight container. I use a pint canning jar. This is more than enough cure for a home batch of fish.
Next, get your fish. Karla only uses fresh, wild-caught fish. I live in Minnesota. I bought my salmon at Sam's. It is farmed and previously frozen (don't tell Karla), but it works quite well, and still tastes better than any smoked salmon I've purchased at a grocery store.
Cut the fish into whatever size pieces you prefer. If you want (and your smoker is large enough), you can leave the fillet whole. I like mine in strips 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. I consider this a single serving, though normal people disagree with me on this.
|I had lots of help with the fish.|
I bought two fillets. If I am going to fire up the smoker, I may as well put a big load in. I grouped my cuts up from thickest to thinnest.
Apply the cure on all sides of each piece of fish. I start with the thickest pieces first, and work my way to the thin ones. Put the fish into another container to cure. It is going to release some moisture. I use a 9 by 13 Pyrex dish for this. (A note about the fish: I prefer to use fillets with the skin on. There is a fatty layer of tissue just under the skin which is never completely cut away when a fillet is skinned, and it tastes very fishy. When I use skin-on fillets, that fat stays with the skin when I flake the finished product. Alas, the salmon at Sam's is always skinned, and skin-on fish at the grocery store costs about twice as much.)
The book suggests curing small salmon for 60 to 90 minutes, but notes that fish that has been frozen will absorb the salt more quickly. Since this is farmed fish, and less firm than wild, and previously frozen, I cured it for 30 minutes. If you like your fish saltier, cure it longer. If it is too salty, cure it for a shorter time next go-around.
At the end of your curing time, rinse each piece of fish very well in cool water. I start with the thinnest pieces and work my way back to the thickest.
Place the rinsed fish on a rack. I just put mine on the racks from my smoker. Go get your smoker preheating, and let the fish rest for 30 to 60 minutes. I run my smoker at about 170 degrees to smoke salmon.
|Cured, rinsed, and ready to smoke.|
Load up the smoker, add your wood chips, and be patient. I use alder chips when smoking fish, though maple or apple work work well, too.
|Loaded up! I covered the drip trays in heavy duty aluminum foil, to facilitate cleanup.|
I have a
|Worth the wait.|
Allow the fish to cool before packing it up in an airtight container and putting it in the refrigerator. If you are in a big hurry to cool it down, put it in a paper bag, then into the fridge. If you put it in plastic or a closed container while it's still hot, it will get slimy on you, and that's no way to treat smoked salmon.
I could eat this stuff every day, and I will be, at least for a while. So far I have had it with cheese and crackers, as smoked salmon hash, with toast, on a big salad, and in two different pasta dishes.